It is no secret that technology has impacted our lives in a variety of ways over the past decades. There is no area of life that technology hasn’t affected, whether it’s finance or education or work.
Although not always obvious or discussed often, war and conflict have also seen significant changes in recent years. Drones and other unmanned, armed vehicles have seen some of the most visible changes. The use of artificial intelligence, cyber capabilities, and other subtle changes are some of the most notable.
One thing is certain when it comes war and conflict: the worst and most devastating effects often fall on the most vulnerable persons involved in any conflict: children. Children are not only at risk of injury or death, but also from the devastating effects of war. Children are also affected by the indirect effects of factors such as displacement, broken family ties and hunger, and lack of access vital services. Many of the new frontiers in warfare have created new ways for children to be hurt.
Drones are one example. In recent years, drones have played a more important role in conflicts. There is always the risk that civilians, including children, could be killed by military personnel using armed drones. Their use has been shown to have negative psychosocial effects, particularly on children.
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International efforts to regulate autonomous weapon systems will continue this year: 100 countries have called on meaningful human control over such forceful use, while 31 countries have called to ban them completely.
A chilling trend is the rise in cyberattacks. These attacks are carried out by governments, non-state organizations, and individuals against civilian objects like critical infrastructure and institutions. This has powerful consequences for children who can be directly or indirectly affected.
The targeting of public infrastructure could result in the disruption of vital services for children. The most disruptive and obvious being the ones that affect health, water, sanitation, and electricity. Cyberattacks on schools have increased, rising to 25% in Europe and 21% in Asia during the pandemic. This demonstrates their vulnerability to attack during conflicts.
You can also use cyber tools to spread misinformation or disinformation. This is done to undermine trust, influence attitudes, influence the outcome of elections, foment hostility among communities, and shape attitudes. These campaigns can lead to real-world, dangerous consequences such as the abuse of children and young adults. Misinformation and disinformation are a regular part of young people’s lives as they are active digital users.
Children can also be affected by the actions of their governments during conflict. Governments are increasingly using deliberate internet shutdowns to stop legitimate protests from taking place and limit information flow. These shutdowns can be devastating for economic activity, and they can also limit access to vital services, even for children.
Technology has not driven all advancements in warfare. Urban warfare is a long-standing feature of armed conflicts. However, it has seen a resurgence in recent years with intense fighting in cities around the globe.
There have been many instances when conflict parties moved from one street to another, while others used explosive weapons such as artillery shelling or air strikes in densely populated areas. These weapons can be used in an indiscriminate manner, as they are often not able to distinguish between civilians and combatants in densely populated areas.
Children are the most vulnerable to armed conflict in urban areas. They are at risk of being injured or killed, malnutrition, disease, and mental health problems. Children who have to live in cities under siege-like conditions are more likely to get sick from lack of clean water.
The evolving nature of warfare, as well as the increased use of digital and frontier technologies, is creating new layers in global governance, international legal, and multilateralism. This raises the question: How are children’s rights being included in this global discussion on these issues?
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It is vital to have stronger regulation and greater cooperation. The dire consequences for children are not being addressed by the existing efforts. This is putting them at greater risk of becoming innocent participants in adult wargames. Child advocates will have to be louder in 2022 demanding safeguards for children.